The Rest of the Story


(For some unknown, unknowable reason, I stopped writing in June. Just stopped. Didn’t think about it. Didn’t worry about it. Whatever makes me write, stopped.

Then a few days ago, that part of my brain started working again. Just did.

So I looked back at what I had been writing about and realized—I didn’t finish the story of Antarctica. So here is–The Rest of the Story.)

The entire trip to Antarctica had given me an emotional high. I was were, for most of my adult life, I had wanted to be. I was on an ocean that few had the privilege to see. I was witnessing a landscape that was terrifyingly beautiful. I was acutely aware of the dangers that surrounded me as I floated on a small rubber boat among penguins and icebergs, whales and mountains.

Zodiak trips

The cold wind on my face, the sun on my back, the sounds of wildlife and expanding ice were sensations that I would never forget.

Not only were the expeditions memorable but the lectures that preceded and followed them stuck with me. Stories about Shacklton, Tom Crean and others were shared by our guides. Places where those people had been were pointed out and talks about them were prominent.

The one that stayed with me was the story of Edward Bransfield. He was the Irishman, sailing under a British flag, that was the first to see and chart the Antarctic Peninsula. The speaker was Jim Wilson who, we found out, was the chairperson of the Remembering Edward Bransfield Committee of County Cork, Ireland!

I was astounded to find out that Edward Bransfield had died in obscurity. There were no pictures of him, there was little, if anything, written about him. There is a Bransfield Strait, Mount Bransfield and Bransfield House but no mention of him in Ireland or Britain. That felt odd to me. We remember other discoverers, but not this Irishman.

When I got home, I began designing a tartan that reflected what I had seen in Antarctica. As a weaver, I had never attempted design. It was a new frontier. It was scaring and exhilarating. And it took a long time.

I was in contact with Jim Wilson and shared my ideas and preliminary designs with him. His request was that the design include a bit of orange for the lichens that survive in that hostile climate. I wanted a touch of red for the krill and the penguin rookeries. The rest of the colors were easy. Yes, the orange and red are there but so is a deep blue (the ocean), white (snow and ice), light blue for the icebergs, green for the mosses and black for the mountains and the penguins.

Jim and I finally agreed on a design and I began to weave it in traditional tartan wool. That wool is rough and “sticky”. By that I mean that it is a thread that sticks to other like threads and it is, for awhile, uncomfortable to wear. It is scratchy until it has been worn enough to soften and mold to the person wearing it. But that is the “traditional” tartan fabric.

Fighting with sticky wool!

I decided to register the tartan design with the Scottish Register of Tartans. To do that the design needed a name and Jim suggested Edward Bransfield.

Today, the Edward Bransfield Commemorative tartan is registered. The owners are Penguin Designs, LLC and The Remembering Edward Bransfield Committee. No one else has permission to use the design.

As I wove the first scarves made of the tartan wool, I decided to give them to the people on the trip who had most affected me. So here is Jim christening his scarf in Bransfield Strait (and at Bransfield House) and Ingrid Nixon showing off her scarf on her next trip to Antarctica.

That was the birth of Penguin Designs, LLC. With a little help from my family and friends, I found a weaving mill in Ireland that would weave the design into scarves using Irish lambswool.

Enter Phillip Cushen and his family. They are the sixth generation to operate Cushendale Woollen Mills in Gragnamanaugh, County Kilkenny, Ireland. The mill itself was built in the 1200’s by monks.

Cushendale Storefront

Above are Master Weaver, Phillip Cushen, myself and son-in-law Trevor. Next is daughter Miriam and I discussing and deciding on colors. The next is the mill race that contains the water used in the dyeing process.

They buy local wool. They clean it, card it, spin it and dye it. Then they weave it on huge looms.

Phillip Cushen and staff member at the warping wheel

My image of Antarctica in woven form came to fruition.

I still handweave the tartan in cotton and in bamboo. But the wool I leave to the professionals. The lambswool is so soft and warm and so lovingly made; I cannot match the quality or the feel on my home loom.

But the bamboo and cotton are there for those who live in warmer climates and want something hand made.

Here is what that looks like on my loom!

For those of you who might like a remembrance of your trip or just a wonderfully made scarf or blanket, head to http://www.penguindesigns.net.

I don’t want to end with a pitch. This was my way for remembering where I had been and what I learned from my time in Antarctica. I am happy to share it with you. It is a process that, three years after the trip, still remains with me. I am quite sure it will remain with me for the rest of my life.

I got to walk on the continent of Antarctica.

Categories: Antarctica, TravelTags: , , ,

8 comments

  1. I am and will always be honored to be among the first to wear the tartan, esp. in the Antarctic. The power of travel and stories is that they capture us in ways we cannot anticipate and can leave us forever changed. Your passion and inspiration have changed Antarctic history … Brilliant. Just brilliant.

    Like

  2. Welcome back, Gael. Good to see you here again 😊

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  3. I loved reading this! I’m excited to receive my scarf handwoven by you!

    Like

  4. It is still on the loom but I am working on it! Patience is a virtue, I think…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have loads of patience. I loved reading how you chose the colours for the tartan. Selecting colours for any weaving is for me the hardest part.

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  6. Reblogged this on AreMyFeetOffTheGround and commented:
    A story about a visit to Antarctica by Gael Mueller.

    Like

  7. You are a gem, Lee! Thank you!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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